by The People’s Minister of Information JR
Trinidadian filmmakers Garth St. Clair and his wife, Natasha Nunez, are two of the many cinematic junkies who have traveled to San Francisco from far and wide to attend the 18th Annual San Francisco Black Film Festival, which is taking place at a number of theaters around the city this weekend. I met Garth and Natasha while mingling outside of the opening night film “Lambadina,” which screened at the Coppola Theater at San Francisco State, while they were promoting their film “Trafficked,” which screens at the festival at the African American Art and Culture Complex in San Francisco on Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m.
This feature length film couldn’t be more timely, since the current headline story in the Bay is the Bay Area law enforcement pedophile trafficking scandal, involving over 2 dozen officers and costing Oakland 2 police chiefs resigning in one week.
Check out “Trafficked” filmmaker Garth St. Clair in his own words as he talks about the film he and Natasha wrote and this very serious social ill. Also check out sfbff.org to see this weekend’s San Francisco Black Film Festival schedule.
M.O.I. JR: How long have you been a filmmaker? And what’s the story behind that?
Garth St. Clair: Natasha Nunez – my wife, co-host, partner, friend – and I are drug demand reduction and prevention talk show hosts on www.i955fm.com. This program is aired every Sunday evening from 6:15 to 8 p.m.
This radio program was born out of my experience as a crack user. I was a serving member of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment from 1982 to 1989. I was introduced to crack after six years of service and was eventually discharged in 1989.
My drug use continued until I was incarcerated for six months for larceny. I used the time in prison to reflect on my life. When I was released, I had no idea what life had in store for me but I knew what I had in store for life. I wanted my life back and I took it.
I moved around a bit between T&T (Trinidad and Tobago) and Canada. I tried frontline line singing with a few bands but did not find any fulfilment doing this. During this time, I would listen to several radio stations and several talk show hosts.
This is where I met Natasha. She hosted a talk show during the evening period, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., weekdays. I would call in from time to time on the show, but we never got along on air. We were eventually introduced to each other 18 years ago and this is when the magic happened.
We became friends and kept it that way for a couple years. It was very evident that we had a lot in common. She is very radical and intelligent and this what attracted me to her. I credit her with setting my mind straight and encouraging me to think of finally settling down. The rest, as is said, is history.
Two years into our relationship I suggested that we host a talk show together. This was not to be the ordinary run of the mill talk show. This talk show will be thinking “outside the box,” going very deep into the abyss of substance abuse and its related ills, which was a taboo subject not discussed at any level in the media.
In 2002, we approached the Trinidad and Tobago government for sponsorship to get the show on air. The minister at the time holding the reins of the Ministry of Community Development, Mrs. Joan Yuille-Williams, gave us the support to proceed with the talk show. Fourteen years and 12 awards later, we are still on the air and going strong. Check us out at http://www.facebook.com/realityradiott.
In 2009, we developed a relationship with the British High Commission to Trinidad and Tobago when it was reported in the news that two Tobago-born nationals were extradited to the United Kingdom for conspiracy to traffic cocaine. We saw this as a golden opportunity to take our program to the next level.
We approached the High Commission for sponsorship to fly to London to interview one or both of the brothers to extract from them what the hell they were thinking. One of them, Owen Alfred, was actually employed with our national carrier, Caribbean Airlines, as a counter attendant.
The BHC (British High Commission) sought and obtained permission from the Ministry of Justice U.K. – this is after asking Owen if he would agree to be interviewed. He agreed.
We flew out to the U.K. in April 2009 and interviewed him at HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) Wandsworth. While at the prison, we discovered that there were a number of female nationals who were incarcerated for drug trafficking. Over the next three years, we got permission to interview them at various prison facilities in England.
These interviews were edited and replayed on air, with their permission, with the intention of dissuading others from attempting to do the same, as this move would just either ruin one’s life or set one back for a few years. We played and replayed these interviews until one day after another interview with another national, we decided to turn one into a visual tool. This is what gave birth to our latest venture, the film “Trafficked.”
M.O.I. JR: What is it like to work with your wife in a film company? How do you split up the duties?
Garth St. Clair: My wife is employed full-time with the Sports Company of T&T, a state agency under the Ministry of Sport, as a communications specialist. However, I was able to convince her to not only host a talk show with me but also to set up a consulting company so that I can get paid as a lecturer and motivational speaker.
I am the partner who would dream up all types of ideas. I would take them to her and she somehow would see the picture and put it on paper in the form of proposals.
Our company, NuClair Consulting, was also responsible for setting up a prison radio station at our maximum security prison. This idea came from one of the prisons we visited in the U.K. I would describe our partnership as “she would pound the keyboard and I would pound the pavement.”
She is able somehow to juggle government work that includes interaction with top officials and ministers, while keep our company and talk show alive. She looks simple but she is really a very remarkable person. I don’t think she even understands how talented she is.
She even edits and scripts the interviews for air play. I cannot ask for a better partner. She is actually a gift from God. Since we met, our life has been just an adventure, I kid you not.
M.O.I. JR: How did you come up with the concept behind your feature film “Trafficked”?
Garth St. Clair: Once we agreed to do this film, we then set out to contact a film director. We approached one person with whom we were familiar, but she was not available. Then one day, while flipping through one of our dailies, I stumbled upon this young man who had just copped an award for a film he wrote and directed called “A Story about Wendy.”
I called a mutual friend of ours who was also in the media at that time, on TV6. Her name was Marcia Henville and it turned out that she actually knew the guy, as they had worked together in the past on the film “Wendy.” She introduced us, I pitched the idea to him about wanting to turn one of our stories into film, he agreed and this is how “Trafficked” was born.
Sadly, Marcia is deceased now, a victim of domestic violence. She was murdered by her husband right after the film “Trafficked” was completed but never got to see its world premiere in September 2015 at the Trinidad + Tobago Film Festival (TTFF/15).
M.O.I. JR: Why is this story important? Why is it important to talk about trafficking in Trinidad and the Caribbean? What’s going on down there in relation to this issue?
Garth St. Clair: This film is very timely, as drug traffickers continue to use hapless, poverty-stricken and vulnerable men and women to transport drugs across borders for them. The U.K. is a very popular destination, as no visa is required for T&T nationals to travel there.
Lately, human trafficking has come to the forefront, so much so that the Counter Trafficking Unit, under the Ministry of National Security, was created in 2013. Trinidad and Tobago is a porous trans-shipment point for drugs and guns from Venezuela, Columbia and other South American countries bound for Europe and North America.
Traffickers must come up with different ways to get these drugs to their several destinations, hence the human element is a very valuable commodity. The Trafficking in Persons Act in T&T identifies individuals who are forced to swallow drugs or carry them on their person or in their luggage as victims of human trafficking.
This can also lead to the individual being trafficked into slavery – sex or domestic – or for their organs. We refer to them, the traffickers, as “Walking Suitcases” because that’s all they are to the traffickers. In Trinidad and Tobago, the prevalence of poverty has increased considerably.
Trinidad and Tobago was, at one time, a top oil and gas producing country. There were two oil booms in our lifetime! T&T was rich enough at one time that every citizen could’ve received a million dollars each. With a population of 1.2 million, up to two years ago, this sum would’ve been a drop in the bucket.
The politicians, however, had other ideas. Windfall after windfall went into the pockets of some politicians and their friends. Today, we can hardly pay salaries. The plummeting oil prices did us no good. It reminds us of the saying, “Waste not, want not” or “A fool and his money are soon parted.”
Some of the poor and vulnerable see drug trafficking as a way out of poverty. A trafficker can earn up to $5K to $10K US or pounds sterling for one trip.
M.O.I. JR: Why is it important for people to talk about human trafficking, especially in the Bay Area, where currently close to two dozen law enforcement agents from various cities and counties are being investigated for sleeping with and coercing a teenager?
Garth St. Clair: The situation is the same in T&T with regard to law enforcement officers. We have seen a new breed of officers at the turn of the century. In T&T several law enforcement officers have found themselves in front of a judge or magistrate for disrespecting their oath of office.
Several police officers have gotten involved with prostitutes from Columbia or Venezuela who are shipped to T&T to work in brothels or nightclubs. Some of these officers either work, partner or own some of the spots. Their colleagues go overboard and lose their minds.
Then there are the officers who either own or protect drug blocks. Then there exist very crooked businessmen who are also protected by officers.
It is alleged that the Coast Guard, Air Guard and even the Regiment are now deeply involved or are in the pockets of crooked businessmen and drug lords. The Prison Service as well has been infiltrated by the underworld.
A lot of officers were mysteriously gunned down while off duty for several reasons. Others were caught attempting to smuggle contraband – cigarettes, ganja, money, weapons etc. – into our nation’s prisons.
Just recently – one year ago – there was a jail break which resulted in a police officer being shot and killed while on duty outside one of our prisons. The escapees – two of the three were shot and killed by police – were outfitted with firearms and a hand grenade. This was facilitated by other prisons officers. To date there has not been any conviction.
I think with time, situations in law enforcement changed drastically with regard to holding officers accountable for their actions. Then there are the officers who insist on being “players,” so they have a lot of mouths to feed and must find all ways possible to make that extra buck.
There are the officers who would love to go straight but the pressure is so great from the crooked ones that they either bow to the peer pressure or cower in fear for their lives. It has been proven that some officers are prepared to take out a colleague to save their own career.
Finally, one of the women we interviewed in the U.K. received her drugs in the form of a “body belt” from a female airport security officer. I need not say more.
M.O.I. JR: Where did you get the characters for your film? Did you totally make them up?
Garth St. Clair: The characters from the film are based on one of the stories told to us. This actually happened to three nationals of T&T but was kept under wraps in the U.K., as it involved witness protection and some heavy players.
But this is a true story. The only difference was the true story involved three women but the director wrote parts for two women and one man. The actors were chosen by the director and his assistant.
M.O.I. JR: How long did it take for you to shoot this film?
Garth St. Clair: The film took one year to complete, from script to post-production. This is due to the length of time it took for us to secure all the funding. The cost was just TT$1m.
M.O.I. JR: What is next? Do you have another movie in the works?
Garth St. Clair: We would love to do at least two more films, but this hinges on the availability of funding. This is the struggle for most filmmakers in T&T and I guess in several other countries.
The next film we would love to do is recreate the story of a British national who came to T&T to traffic drugs back to the U.K. She did not make it back and was arrested in T&T. Her story is nothing short of remarkable. We would like to engage a director from the UK for this one to start this story from her humble beginnings in London.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’“ and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2“ and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe“ and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.